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Cobalt and nickel play Australian Mines plans to commission its demonstration-size processing plant in Perth this month after the installation of its autoclave over the Christmas period.

The plant is expected to begin processing ore previously delivered from trial mining at the Sconi cobalt-nickel-scandium project in north Queensland within the next three weeks.

“With the autoclave in place, we look forward to producing commercial grade cobalt sulphate, nickel sulphate and scandium oxide, which will be delivered to the potential off-take partners on a priority basis in February,” Australian Mines managing director Benjamin Bell said.

“Following our oversubscribed capital raising late last year, we are fully-funded to complete our bankable feasibility study on Sconi and take that project through to a final investment decision, including a comprehensive program of ore processing through the demonstration plant to fine-tune the larger scale engineering studies.”

Australian Mines hopes to start construction at the Sconi project, about 200km north-west of Charters Towers, by the end of the year and is also developing the Flemington cobalt-scandium-nickel project in New South Wales.

Mr Bell said it was expected to cost about $500 million to bring Sconi into production, with an 18-month construction period.

Australian Mines says the company is attracting significant interest from battery makers as well as other international companies that operate in the energy and automotive sectors given the scale and advanced nature of its cobalt-nickel-scandium deposits.

Cobalt and nickel are key battery metals tipped to see heightened demand as the world shifts to low-emissions technology including electric vehicles and renewable energy sources supported by battery storage.

The company is undertaking a bankable feasibility study for its Sconi project, with supporting work including ongoing trial mining and the planned production of commercial-grade samples of cobalt sulphate, nickel sulphate and scandium oxide at the Perth demonstration plant.

Plant poised for Sconi ore trials

It secured $20 million in an oversubscribed share placement in November.
Mount Isa Mines is gearing up for a $30 million rebrick shutdown at the copper smelter from mid-March.

Four major vessels, including the primary Isasmelt furnace, will be completely stripped and relined with new, custom refractory bricks during the overhaul.

The company said major improvements to other critical pieces of smelter infrastructure would also be completed, including an upgrade of the smelter’s off-gas system.

The month-long overhaul project will see Mount Isa Mines bring in about 400 additional contractors and specialist workers to support its regular workforce.

The Glencore-owned Mount Isa copper smelter produces copper anode from material sourced from the company's Mount Isa and Ernest Henry Mining operations, as well as concentrate from other operators in the region through third-party processing agreements.

The Palaszczuk Government announced in late 2016 that it planned to provide a $15 million grant to support the rebricking project at the copper smelter, however Glencore is fully funding the work.

Copper smelter set for $30m overhaul
Queensland achieved a record 20.2 million tonnes in LNG exports in 2017.

And Queensland Resources Council chief executive Ian Macfarlane said the sector was forecast to continue its record export growth, driven by an energy-hungry Asia.

“China was again the largest customer, receiving nearly 11.6Mt, followed by South Korea at 4Mt while Japan imported 2.5Mt.
he said.

“In addition to being a major global LNG supplier, Queensland is in a prime position with its high quality thermal and coking coal to continue to be one of the main players in global coal exports and the industry alone is forecast to contribute a $3.16 billion windfall to the state’s coffers in this year’s Budget,” Mr Macfarlane said.

Coal had been on track for record exports also during the past year until rail and port infrastructure was disrupted when Cyclone Debbie hit in March.

“Coal exports over the 12 months reached 210.8Mt which is down 10Mt or 5 per cent from last year’s record of 220.8Mt,” Mr Macfarlane said.

“The fall in coal is due to Cyclone Debbie severally damaging infrastructure and, according to Queensland Treasury, the cyclone decreased coal exports by 11 mt. In other words, in the absence of the cyclone, Queensland coal exports would have reached another volume record.

“Green activists continue to claim the world is turning away from fossil fuels. In fact, the opposite is the case with Queensland coal exported to at least 37 different countries – five in the Americas – Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay – two in Africa – Algeria, South Africa – 12 in Asia – China, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam – 16 in Europe – Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, United Kingdom – two in Middle East – Turkey, UAE.”

He said Queensland LNG was exported to nine countries across the world – China, India, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia and Hong Kong.

“As we know from our current economic data, Queensland’s combined coal and LNG industries delivered a $46.7 billion economic contribution in 2017/18 and supported more than 230,000 full-time employees across the state,” he said.

LNG exports on the rise

The bulk of the heavy equipment has been assembled and is ready to roll at the new Meteor Downs South coal mine, 45km south-east of Springsure.

Minerva mine operator Sojitz Coal Mining is developing the thermal coal mine in joint venture with U&D Mining.

Sojitz Coal Mining managing director and chief executive officer Cameron Vorias said 95 per cent of the new operation’s equipment was on site and had been assembled at the mine infrastructure area.

Commissioning will take place next week, with the equipment due to begin earthworks in the mine production area on Wednesday.

Mr Vorias said first coal was expected in late February/early March depending on the weather.

“It has been a fabulous effort from the whole team at Meteor to be able to bring a mine on in what is really just less than three months,” he said.

“To be able to generate a mine at that sort of level of capacity in that sort of timeframe has been extraordinary.”

The truck and shovel operation is expected to produce about 500,000 tonnes per annum for the first two years, when Meteor Downs South will rely on road haulage to get its coal to the Minerva rail load-out facility for transport to Gladstone port.

This will be ramped up to 1.5Mtpa when a rail load-out facility comes online.

Mr Vorias said the Meteor Downs South fleet was supplied through Hastings Deering and included a Caterpillar 6040 excavator, four Cat 789C mining trucks, D10T and D11T dozers, a 16M grader, a Cat 336DL excavator and a water cart.

Other recent development work at the site has included completion of an 8km road and the start of work on the mine infrastructure area.

“The majority of the workforce is now in place and the bulk of those people have come out of the Springsure area,” Mr Vorias said.

“We have trained them up at Minerva and they are progressively moved into MDS as the resources are required.”

New coal mine gears up
James Cook University has unveiled an ambitious 50-year plan for the Townsville campus.

It includes new childcare facilities, an aged care home and a hotel by 2035. That’s within a 20 year time frame where JCU is anticipating investing $1.9 billion into infrastructure.

The Townsville Campus Master Plan, which accommodates more residential accommodation and an ‘Ideas Market’, is expected to create demand for more than 1,500 jobs.

The planning process prioritised ‘on campus’ student life experiences said JCU Director – Estate, Hilary Kavanagh.

JCU's 50 year plan includes $ billions investment

He said that in the past year, James Cook University had completed projects worth more than $171 million in north Queensland.

“These include the $85 million state-of-the-art Science Place in Townsville, as well as $25 million spent on the Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine building in Cairns and the $40 million Cairns student accommodation project,” said Mr Kavanagh.

“The figures add to the more than $340 million in capital works the university has completed in the previous eight years.”

Priority projects under the masterplan were the Central Plaza and Technology Innovation Complex, Mr Kavanagh said.

JCU will continue to develop Mount Stuart Street with a mix of academic and student accommodation and commercial, retail and public functions, he said.

The landscape will feature outdoor ‘learning oases’, tropical courtyards and an arboretum.
The Port of Mackay is sailing through climatic and economic rough seas with the help of a re-energised mining sector.

North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation (NQBP) is rolling out an $11.64 million infrastructure upgrade to support growth in both break bulk trade and roll-on roll-off cargo (RORO), said chief executive officer Steve Lewis.

Good times roll on, and off, for Mackay Port

“An additional 8000 tonnes of equipment was transferred through the port during the past 12 months, refl ecting the focus on this type of trade,” Mr Lewis said.

“Accommodating RORO as part of the expansion of break bulk capabilities in Mackay will not only increase options for customers, it will help save money and increase the potential to generate further economic growth.

“Mackay is a sheltered port with direct access to major transport corridors, so we expect the upgrades will make the port increasingly attractive for transport and logistics companies operating in the region.”

The works under way at the Port of Mackay include design changes to Wharf 4 and Wharf 5 that will allow RORO access via Wharf 4. When complete, larger vessels of up to 200m in length and 32.2m wide will also be able to dock.

The port was reporting a lift in activity and enquiry, Mr Lewis said.

“There is a steady return of investment back into the mining sector in both renewing current plant and equipment and expanding existing mines,” he said.

Mackay’s operational track record further supports NQBP’s vision for the shipping facility.

Trade through the Port of Mackay increased 2.74 per cent year on year, despite the impact of category-four Tropical Cyclone Debbie last March.

More than 150 ships berthed at the Port of Mackay during the year, carrying a total of 2.9 million tonnes.

This volume is expected to grow with the improved facilities coming online in early 2018.

The Port of Mackay offers access to an 800ha break bulk storage area for staging, pre-assembly and pre-commissioning of machinery and equipment. It includes 55ha of wharf-side storage.

An accredited quarantine wash-down facility supporting international cargo has recently been completed.